August 26, 2010

Bubba Ho-Tep

August 26, 2010

Here’s a “what if” that makes my mouth water:

Sometime in the 70s, the real Elvis trades places with an impersonator named Sebastian Haff. Sebastian lives out the rest of his days at Graceland and leaves the building for good after the infamous fatal overdose. Elvis, on the other hand, travels around the country impersonating himself, because being "the King" is simply what he does best.

He and Sebastian have signed an agreement that they can switch identities any time Elvis wants to. Unfortunately, the only copy of the contract gets incinerated during a barbecuing accident that ends up exploding Elvis’ trailer, as well.

Elvis doesn’t seem to mind. He goes on his merry way singing his songs and tossing away scarves, until one night he accidentally throws out his bad hip, falls into the mosh pit, lapses into a twenty-year coma, and ends up in a nursing home in East Texas with a new best friend, a black man who claims to be Jack Kennedy.

Can I tell you just how jealous I am of Joe Lansdale, the guy who wrote the novella on which the movie is based? What an incredible imagination. I wish I could have come up with characters and dialogue half as inventive.

“Bubba Ho-Tep” is all about language. Here’s a link to several of the very best scenes.

Those eight minutes, though, only scratch the surface of all of the wonderful talk, such as when Elvis in voiceover feels sorry for himself because the daughter of his deceased roommate comes to pick up the man’s belongings. She leans over and exposes her panties, indifferent to what she might be showing him. Elvis opines that she’s about as threatened by his manhood as she would be a housecat.

Along with the reduced circumstances of the all the elderly people in the film, Elvis’ melancholy makes me feel sorry for the poor guy. So does the growth at the end of his penis a condescending nurse lubes up each day. The look on his face when he finally “rises” to the occasion is priceless. Also hilarious is “JFK’s” description of why being a black man is the perfect disguise.

For a horror film, there’s a whole lot of this kind of conversation, throwaway lines that are smart and side-splitting.

There are plenty of sight gags, too, such as the clumsy undertakers who come to collect the residents as they die off one by one, cockroaches bigger than any I ever laid eyes on when I lived in Houston, and a soul-sucking mummy that kind of resembles Raggedy Andy with his face eaten off and his stuffing falling out.

Bruce Campbell of “Evil Dead” fame perfectly channels his inner Elvis, and Ossie Davis is exactly the right actor to play “Mr. President.”

But the never-ending back-and-forth between the characters makes this one of my very favorite movies of the past decade. After watching it again on TV a full eight years after it was first released, I couldn't believe how fresh it still seemed to me.

In spite of all the discussion about how screenplays don’t matter anymore, here’s one that shows precisely how important the words on the page truly are.

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